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Traumatizing

September 18, 2009

Trigger warning

Update: I wrote this post (as must be plainly obvious) from a place of anger. I guess that’s one of the perils of having instant posting access. I totally failed to address the racial implications of this case, and of my response to it, and that’s both shoddy thinking and plain out racist. I should have laid out the different meaning for this situation to Black men, who our culture is pathetically willing to assume would do something like this, evidence be damned. It is not okay that I failed to check my privilege, and fought for my rights by stomping on other people’s.

I do not feel as blase toward those who have been accused of a crime they did not commit or do not believe they committed as this post indicates; I do completely recognize that this situation was traumatic for these men. My purpose in writing this post was not to imply otherwise, but I did and I recognize that. I also do not believe that any evidence against a complainant is automatically illegitimate. In this case, the tape’s existence and the men’s attorney’s reaction (“It almost looks like a porn,” he says, apparently ignorant to the fact that most of the women in porn are survivors of sexual violence themselves) set off warning bells for me.

What I really meant to say is that we–as a culture, as a media in a culture–go absolutely over the moon when something like this happens. We salivate and commentate. It’s news for days. And none of that news is the number of rapes that can’t be investigated because rape kits were lost or ignored. None of the news is the number of rapes that won’t be reported because women are faced with total loss of resources, don’t think anyone will believe them, or experienced something that decimated their personhood but that someone else might not recognize as rape. Of course these men are traumatized, and with perfect right. But CNN is not going to write a story about women who were traumatized by rapes they couldn’t report, or rapes that no one took seriously. That is nothing we want to hear about. This is.

This post was meant less as commentary on this particular case and more as a response to our prurient fascination with cases like these. I didn’t structure it or argue it in a way that made that obvious, but I hope this addendum clarifies where I’m coming from.

From CNN:

Four young men falsely accused of raping an 18-year-old student at Hofstra University were trying to return to their normal lives Friday after an ordeal that two of them described as traumatic.
You know, I’m willing to concede that being accused of a crime that you do not believe you committed would be traumatic. I don’t think that’s a terribly unreasonable statement.

And I don’t know whether these men honestly believe they did not rape this woman, and I don’t know whether the woman honestly believes they did. I do know that the FBI puts false allegations of rape at about 2% of reported cases, on par with other violent crimes. (Sure seems like we hear about all of them.) I also know that if a woman tells me she was raped, I always believe her first.

She recanted her story after it was revealed that one of the accused men had videotaped the encounter. The attorney for the accused says that the tape is proof that she consented: “It showed just the opposite of what the allegations were. There was no tying up, there was no bruising, there was no screaming.”

That is not the same as consent. There is no indication that the tape includes any mention of these men asking for and receiving enthusiastic permission to continue. And, in fact, the existence of this video that the complainant knew nothing about ought to call into question the motives and actions of the respondents. Unfortunately, digital media allows for all kinds of exploitation–that she certainly did not consent to. The existence of the tape is a threat to her, maybe even a coercive threat to her. It is so far from self-evident that her reversal means she lied in the first place, which no one investigating this case seems willing to consider.

Of course, this has not stopped MRAs from screeching about the great prevalence! The horrible injustice of it all! while forgetting that no one will never ask these men if they got consent. No one will ever say, “Yeah, it would be really traumatizing to be accused of a rape you didn’t intend to commit. How about making goddamn sure that any woman you’re with really wants to be with you?” That means asking, Do you have a boyfriend? That means asking, Are you sober enough to be doing this? (And really, if you have to ask that latter one, it’s a good time to call it a night.) That means asking, Is this okay? No one will ever assume that men are responsible for not raping a woman.

So, yeah, it’s traumatizing to be accused of a crime you don’t think you committed. But you know what else would be really fucking traumatizing? Sitting in a courtroom while the defense plays a video of your rape, over and over and over again, while everyone else talks about how you weren’t tied up, weren’t bruised and weren’t screaming. While everyone else ignores that no one asked if they could do that to you. While everyone else pretends that that’s evidence that you asked for whatever happened.

Yeah, false accusations suck. But you know what? If a man denies raping a woman, and it turns out he actually did, there are no fucking reporters who think that’s news.

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